I’ve been in D.C. for 13 months now and by now I thought I’d be cynical. Like the unfortunate seasonal turn to snow and slush that I can smell coming, I expected to stop feeling hopeful for a new world through constant exposure to the process of doing the work of politics.
That hasn’t happened. If anything, I’ve gotten less cynical about politics since I arrived. Through my work, I’ve seen busy and powerful people channel their energy and use their power to help people who were trapped, people who could not fight back.
Human trafficking is a rare issues that garners bipartisan support in many places. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to support. Some trafficking survivors are undocumented, and serving them could cost politicians support from those constituencies who don’t like undocumented people. Some trafficking survivors are caught up in cycles of violence and have records, and serving them could cost politicians votes with those who don’t like people with records. Some trafficking survivors are of races and genders and orientations which aren’t too popular with some constituencies.
During the 2008 election, this song meant a great deal to me:
And I played it on a loop while I was cooking lavender chili using lavender from my mother’s garden in California. As a writer, I love the flow of gut-tug images. As an advocate, I think the line: We are not as divided as our politics suggest, and I think of all of the people I stand beside to get good laws passed. People who have nothing to gain. People who are helping those who couldn’t fight back. People helping in smart ways because they care.
It’s popular to hate D.C. back home. And most of the time when people outside of D.C. see lawmakers and policy wonks, they’re wearing boxy suits and blaring on T.V. The optics beg for cynicism, for people to step away and back to the brightly-colored priorities of their own lives, leave it to the bland suits.
I’ve seen those suits tugged half off the a sleepy Dad’s shoulder by a morning-anxious toddler, those suits getting bagels between meetings, those suits laughing at bars after work. More than any place I’ve ever lived since I left Silicon Valley, I’ve seen it’s ok to be smart here. More importantly, it’s ok to care. No one’s laughed at me for taking a nonprofit job, for working seriously every day to help save the world.
There are moments that might look like cynicism to the outside eye. A friend rightly observed that you’ve never seen fucked up until you’ve listened in to a group of anti-human trafficking advocates playing Cards Against Humanity. But the after we blew off steam, the next morning we all got up and went back to the work.
There are things that are wrong in D.C. There are things that could be better. There are people who don’t try hard, don’t work hard, don’t help others. But there are a lot of people here who do care, who work hard, do try their best to build a better world.
Those of you reading this who haven’t seen that, I wish I could take you back in time with me to last May, when I saw the entire body of a major Congressional committee show up for a hearing they wouldn’t get much press out of, show up just to ask questions and try to figure out how to better combat human trafficking. There weren’t major donors on the line, there weren’t big-name bills, there weren’t any companies employing thousands of constituents.
Just a big, hard issue to tackle and people, showing up, and doing the work.
“Yes we can.”–Senator Barack Obama